Author Archives: Alan Hamari

Breweries, wineries & distilleries on the Great River Road

Monday, June 24, 2019

Cheers!

Whether you’re looking for unique microbrews, handcrafted spirits or a winery with an amazing view, you’ll discover some great places to raise your glass along the Great River Road.

Here are a few spots to spend your next happy hour.

North

  • Minnesota: Beer lovers are in luck when they visit the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. There, you’ll find literally dozens of breweries, from sprawling complexes with on-site restaurants to tiny taprooms. Local favorites include Surly, Fair State Cooperative, Indeed Brewing, Bad Weather Brewing and Summit.
  • Wisconsin: You might think you’re in Napa Valley as you enjoy a crisp white or full-bodied red on the patio at Elmaro Vineyard in Trempealeau and gaze over the awe-inspiring landscape of nearby Perrot State Park and the Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge.
  • Iowa: A true “grain to glass” distillery, Mississippi River Distilling Company creates its small-batch gin, vodka and more with grain harvested within 25 miles of their facility in downtown LeClaire. And don’t miss the vineyards of the Iowa Wine Trail, which passes through towns like Clinton, Marquette and Guttenberg.
  • Illinois: In the charming town of Galena, you’ll find great shops, a historic downtown, and tasty restaurants. You’ll also find Blaum Bros. Distilling Co., one of the state’s #IllinoisMade businesses—makers, creators and artisans that show off the state’s entrepreneurial spirit. Stop by for a tour and a taste of their gin, vodka, bourbon and other spirits.

Middle

  • Missouri: Sure, St. Louis is famously home to the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, but there are plenty of other beermakers in “The Lou,” as well.  Take a tour and stop for a tasting at award-winning breweries like Schlafly, Urban Chestnut and Perennial Artisan Ales.
  • Tennessee: The Volunteer State’s claim to spirits doesn’t just come from Mr. Jack Daniel in Lynchburg. Memphis is home to Old Dominick Distillery, founded in 1866 by Domenico Canale. Five generations later, business is still booming—Memphis visitors can tour the factory, sample Old Dominick’s whiskeys and vodkas in the tasting room and grab a bite at the on-site restaurant.

South

  • Mississippi: Founded in 1716, Natchez is the oldest city on the Mississippi River. Amidst all that history, visitors will find great food and drink, too, including the Natchez Brewing Company, which offers tours and tastings at its facility downtown, and Charboneau Distillery, home to the first legally distilled rum produced in Mississippi.
  • Louisiana: Where to start? (New Orleans. New Orleans is always the answer.) OK, so the Big Easy might not technically be “the city that invented the cocktail,” but you’ll find several drinks that were perfected here, including the Hurricane, the Rum Punch and the Pimm’s Cup. Thirsty to learn more? Visit the Museum of the American Cocktail, which offers education programs, tastings and more.

(Photo: Blaum Bros. Distilling Co. in Galena, courtesy of the Illinois Office of Tourism)

The best barbecue on the Great River Road

Monday, June 17, 2019

Where there’s smoke, there’s… some of the best barbecue in the United States.

Sure, you might automatically (and correctly) think of St. Louis and Memphis as barbecue hot spots on the Mississippi River, but the truth is, you can find delectable BBQ at restaurants up and down the Great River Road—it’s just a matter of knowing where to go.

Here’s a region-by-region breakdown of where you can find the best brisket, ribs and more along America’s greatest drive.

North

Even if they don’t have the traditions of their Southern cousins, the states of the northern Great River Road still have plenty of restaurants that produce delicious barbecue. In the Twin Cities, visitors can find authentic Carolina barbecue at Revival, which has restaurants in Minneapolis and Saint Paul (and also sells smoked meats at the Keg and Case Market in Saint Paul).

Head to La Crosse—the biggest city on Wisconsin’s section of the Great River Road—for great bites at Piggy’s (and don’t miss live blues music in the Smokin’ Blues Lounge downstairs on Saturday nights). Across the river in Bellevue, Iowa, you’ll find another barbecue-and-blues restaurant at Flatted Fifth Blues & BBQ, housed in a historic grist mill on the banks of the Mississippi.

A short drive from St. Louis, Beast Craft BBQ Co. in Belleville, Illinois, has won lots of awards since it opened in 2015, including nods from Thrillist (who called it one of the 33 best BBQ joints in America) and Food & Wine magazine (Illinois’ best barbecue).

Middle

Now this is barbecue country. We could do a whole article—or several, in fact—on the offerings in St. Louis and Memphis alone, but we’ll pick a few that you must check out. In St. Louis, don’t miss Pappy’s Smokehouse near Saint Louis University; while you’re waiting in line for their award-winning ribs, check out the autographed menus plastered on the walls.

In the tiny town of Bardwell, Kentucky, locals flock to Prince Pit BBQ (which also has a store in nearby Barlow). Further south in Memphis, you’ll find delicious barbecue almost anywhere, but be sure to visit the iconic Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous, which has welcomed rock stars, presidents and regular folks alike to its alley-front location since 1948.

South

Did you know that Arkansas’ only James Beard Award-winning restaurant can be found in a town of just 3,500 people? Well, that’s how good the reputation is for Jones Bar-B-Q Diner, which has been serving customers since at least 1910 and may be the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the state.

Clarksdale, Mississippi, is home to the infamous Crossroads—the place where Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul in exchange for his unearthly musical talent. Just a few steps away from the marker commemorating this location is Abe’s Bar-B-Q, which has been serving locals and visitors to unfettered acclaim for decades.

Louisiana is a melting pot of cultures and cuisines, so it only makes sense that you’ll find po’ boys and fried chicken in addition to the barbecue favorites on the menu at The Francis Smokehouse & Specialty Meats in St. Francisville. What started out as a specialty meat shop now serves hundreds of sandwiches daily; don’t miss their fancier relative, The Francis Southern Table & Bar, next door.

4 reasons to celebrate Drive the Great River Road Month

Friday, August 31, 2018

September is Drive the Great River Road Month, a celebration of America’s greatest drive. The Great River Road follows the Mississippi River for 3,000 miles from the northwoods of Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.

There are many reasons to explore one of the country’s longest and oldest National Scenic Byways, and September is a great time to do so. Here are just a few reasons you should travel the Great River Road this month.

  1. Beautiful scenery. September is the start of fall color season. Drivers on the northern portion of the Great River Road will marvel at the eye-popping views they’ll encounter along the route. Click here to find scenic stops along the Great River Road.
  2. Fall festivals, farmers markets and more. Fall is harvest season, and there’s no shortage of events and attractions highlighting local produce along the route. Click here to find agritourism attractions along the Great River Road.
  3. Museums and historical sites. The story of the Mississippi River is a fascinating one. Learn about the region’s history and culture at nearly 100 Interpretive Centers. See descriptions of the Interpretive Centers here
  4. It’s our birthday! The Great River Road is celebrating its 80th year in 2018, and there’s no better time to take a trip to help us celebrate.

(Photo credit: Visit Natchez)

Enjoy the flavors of the Great River Road

Thursday, August 23, 2018

All summer long, we’ve been talking about the Flavors of the Great River Road, from farm-to-table restaurants and wineries with scenic views to classic recipes and can’t-miss dishes.

We’ve given you travelers’ recommendations for the best places to visit when you’re traveling along the Mississippi River. (Be sure to share your own here.)

And we’ve broken down the best flavors of the Great River Road state-by-state. Here’s a look at the top flavors from each state along America’s greatest drive.

Planning a foodie getaway along the Mississippi River? Order your free 10-state Great River Road map or download our Drive the Great River Road app.

(Photo credit: Dice Sales/Illinois Office of Tourism)

Flavors of the Great River Road: Louisiana

Monday, August 13, 2018

It doesn’t matter whether you’re starting or ending your Great River Road trip in Louisiana—the Bayou State will provide you with some of the best food you’ll find along the entire Mississippi River. From shrimp and crawfish to pralines and beignets, there’s enough deliciousness here to make any food fan happy. Here’s a look at just a few of Louisiana’s famous dishes (and some of the best spots to find them):

  • Seafood, Baton Rouge. Louisiana’s capital is a great place to find some classic seafood fresh from the bayou and the Gulf of Mexico, including oysters, crawfish, and shrimp. Popular dining spots include Parrain’s Seafood Restaurant, Acme Oyster House (which has restaurants throughout Louisiana and the Gulf Coast), Roux 61 and Hot Tails (a short drive from Baton Rouge, but it’s operated by the Food Network’s “Cajun Aces” stars Cody & Samantha Carroll). Side trip: Head to Louisiana State University’s Rural Life Museum & Windrush Gardens.jambalaya new orleans
  • Southern fare, St. Francisville. Francisville sits just north of Baton Rouge at a bend in the Mississippi River, and this small town oozes Southern charm. You’ll find great food here, too—stop by The Francis Southern Table & Bar for oysters, gumbo, crawfish etouffee, jambalya and other Louisiana classics. Or, take in the down-home vibe (and enjoy some live music) at the Magnolia Café. Side trip: Pay a visit to the Myrtles Plantation, one of America’s most haunted homes.
  • Cocktails, New Orleans. New Orleans claims it invented the cocktail, and with options this delicious, it’s hard to argue. Time-honored drinks like the Sazerac, brandy milk punch, the Ramos Gin Fizz and the Hurricane were all conceived in the Crescent City, and you’ll find plenty of places that are happy to serve them up. If you’re looking for an iconic New Orleans bar, don’t miss the (revolving!) Carousel Bar & Lounge at the Hotel Monteleone or Arnaud’s French 75 Bar, a James Beard award-winning classic. Side trip: Want to get away from the hustle and bustle of Bourbon Street? Head next door to Frenchman Street, which houses a collection of energetic live music venues, quirky shops and (of course) delicious dining.
  • Dessert, New Orleans. New Orleans gets all the fun accolades when it comes to eating and drinking—it’s the home of the cocktail, as well as home to some of the best desserts you’ve ever had. Be sure to sample some beignets and café au lait at Café du Monde. Touristy? Sure—but there’s a reason there’s always a line for these delicious, doughy, sugar-topped pastries. Then, head down to the French Market to pick up some Aunt Sally’s Pralines. Side trip: Travel west out of the Crescent City to discover the marvelous antebellum homes of New Orleans Plantation Country.

Don’t forget to share your favorite flavors of the Great River Road with us. Also, you can enter for a chance to win $500 to spend on a Great River Road food trip!

Flavors of the Great River Road: Illinois

Monday, August 06, 2018

With the longest section of the Great River Road, Illinois offers something for every traveler, whether you’re interested in exploring historical sites or discovering charming small towns along the Mississippi River.

Got an appetite? Illinois’ section of the Great River Road has plenty to fill your menu. Just take a look.

Breakfast

Start your day off right as you travel through Illinois’ Great Rivers Country with breakfast and a cup of coffee at Otto’s Place in Galena. Or, get your caffeine fix at Milltown Coffee in Moline.

Lunch

Grab a meal with a great view of the Mississippi River at The Loading Dock in Grafton. (Fun photo op side trip: Visit Collinsville—just east of St. Louis—to snap a pic of the world’s largest catsup bottle.)

Dinner

You’re in the Midwest, so why not partake in some farm-to-table deliciousness? In Galena, head to One Eleven Main for delectable dishes filled with local flavor. When you’re in Quincy, don’t miss the unique local plates at Thyme Square.

Drinks

You’ll find wineries aplenty along the Great River Road in Illinois. Illinois’ Great Rivers Country offers a great look at the dozens of wineries you can visit between Galena and Cairo. Interested in distilled spirits? Visit Stumpy’s Spirits Distillery in Columbia or Blaum Bros Distilling Co. in Galena.

Dessert

Discover delicious desserts and a true slice of Americana at Lagomarcino’s in Moline, where four generations of the Lagomarcino family have been serving up chocolates, candy and homemade ice cream. Are baked treats more your thing? Visit Kruta Bakery in Collinsville.

(Photos courtesy of the Illinois Office of Tourism)

Flavors the Great River Road: Mississippi

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Mississippi offers something for every traveler. From its music scene to its rich history, its Delta culture to its beautiful magnolias, the state doesn’t disappoint. And when it comes to food? Boy, does Mississippi deliver.

Here are a few spots to explore when you’re traveling along the Great River Road in Mississippi.

Clarksdale: A blues lover’s mecca, Clarksdale is the site of much of the iconic music that came out of the Delta—you’ll find attractions like the Crossroads (the intersection of Highways 49 and 61, where bluesman Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his musical talent) and the Delta Blues Museum. Explore the downtown to discover more unique shops and music venues, including the Bluesberry Café, where you can get a side of live blues with your breakfast, or the famous Ground Zero Blues Club, where you can find great music and another Mississippi delicacy: fried green tomatoes.

Cleveland: Another great stop for music lovers, Cleveland is home to the only other GRAMMY Museum outside of Los Angeles. But if you’re looking for some Southern comfort food, don’t miss Airport Grocery, which serves up generous helpings of tamales, crawfish, BBQ and more in a restaurant adorned with classic signage and curios.

Vicksburg: In Mississippi, fried is always better. This rule goes for just about anything including pickles, okra, and seafood. One of Mississippi’s unique contributions to the culinary world is its twist on the po’ boy sandwich. Originating from Louisiana, the po’ boy usually comes stuffed with roast beef. But in Mississippi, it’s decked with fried shrimp, crawfish, crab and other Gulf specialties. Try it at Rusty’s Riverfront Grill in Vicksburg.

Natchez: Get a scenic view of the Mississippi River or enjoy a dinner on the site of beautiful antebellum homes in the historic city of Natchez, which was founded more than 300 years ago. Historic properties like Dunleith and Stanton Hall have restaurants on site, and you can discover scenic dining at The Pilot House or 10 South Rooftop Bar & Grill.

Southern cooking is famous for a reason. Visit Mississippi, and you’ll find out why.

(Fried catfish photo courtesy of Visit Mississippi)

Flavors of the Great River Road: Missouri

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

mark twain brewery hannibal missouriExploring the Great River Road in Missouri will take you alongside scenic bluffs, through historic towns and into the bustling metropolis of St. Louis. It’s enough to make anyone hungry—here are some places to find some uniquely Missouri food in the Gateway City and beyond.

Hot Salami Sandwich

During the 20th century, St. Louis’s Italian neighborhood, The Hill, was a go-to for anyone looking for authentic cuisine d’Italia. Gioia’s Deli, one of the few remaining odes to The Hill’s glory days, opened its doors in 1918 and became famous for the hot salami sandwich. It’s no wonder this tried-and-true favorite has been named best sandwich in the city for years, as it’s served on a delicious garlic cheese bread and finished off with a spicy giardiniera. Get a taste of St. Louis’ cultural history and the famous hot salami sandwich during your visit and you’ll be a Gioia’s fan for life.

Gooey Butter Cake

It’s safe to say gooey butter cake is one of history’s tastiest mistakes. In the 1930s, a new employee at a St. Louis bakery accidentally swapped proportions of flour and butter in a cake recipe, and gooey butter cake was the result. Surprisingly, the dessert became a local favorite and bakeries around the city began mimicking the recipe. Try it at Park Avenue Coffee, a local chain that offers over 70 flavors of gooey butter cake.

St. Louis-style pizzast louis style pizza

A trip to St. Louis requires trying the city’s rendition of pizza. St. Louis-style pizza is in a league of its own with a dense, cracker-like crust and a sweet sauce inspired by the area’s Sicilian immigrants. What really makes it unique is Provel cheese, a trademark combination of provolone, Swiss and white cheddar that is difficult to find anywhere outside St. Louis. Head to Imo’s for one of the best renditions of this quirky twist on a universally loved dish.

Other destinations

If you’re headed south on Missouri’s Great River Road, don’t miss the dining options in the charming towns of Ste. Genevieve (which also has several wineries nearby) and Cape Girardeau. Headed north, you can find tasty restaurants, breweries and more in Hannibal, the boyhood home of Mark Twain.

Whether St. Louis is the only destination on your itinerary, or you’re passing through on a trek down the Mississippi, the city is home to culinary quirks and combinations of culture that are worth making a stop.

 

 

 

 

 

Flavors of the Great River Road: Arkansas

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Arkansas’ Delta Byways region is home to outstanding Southern flavors, from catfish to tamales to award-winning barbecue. Plus, the state’s fertile farmlands are home to soybeans, rice and more. Here’s a quick look at some of the best tastes to seek out in your trip through the Natural State.

Barbecue. You might not expect to find a James Beard award-winning restaurant in the Arkansas Delta, but a visit to Jones’ Bar-B-Q Diner in Marianna will show you what the fuss is all about. The Jones family has been serving locals—and since their Beard Award win, people from all over the world—for more than 100 years. Stop by this nondescript diner for some great food and a true taste of the South.

Tamales. Like its neighbor Mississippi to the east, Arkansas celebrates the mixing of many cultures in its cuisine. Take the tamale, which can be found at restaurants big and small throughout the Delta. A blink-and-you’ll-miss it spot to check out in Lake Village is Rhoda’s Famous Hot Tamales, which is famous for its coffee can-packed tamales (a dozen in each that you can take home).

Delta Cultural Center. Learn about the history and heritage of the Arkansas Delta at this unique museum in Helena. Explore exhibits that examine the history of the area, starting with early settlements on rich croplands. Speaking of food, the Delta Cultural Center has been the home of the King Biscuit Radio Show—the longest-running daily blues radio show in the United States—since 1990. Stop by from 12:15 to 12:45pm Monday through Friday to listen to “Sunshine” Sonny Payne broadcast live.

Lake Chicot State Park. Want to catch your own meal? Lake Chicot is an angling haven, whether you’re going after catfish or crappie and bass.

(Photos courtesy of Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism)